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During the stormy and controversial years of the Trump Administration, the comic targets for the squad of correspondents on The Daily Show were large and easy. But with the trifecta of the COVID pandemic, last year’s national reckoning on race and an attempted coup leading to the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol, host Trevor Noah’s team encountered a heightened degree of difficulty to mine comedy out of tragic and grim events.
The Hollywood Reporter’s chief television critic, Daniel Fienberg, interviewed the six correspondents — Ronny Chieng, Jordan Klepper, Michael Kosta, Desi Lydic, Dulce Sloan and Roy Wood Jr. — via THR Presents, powered by Vision Media, to explore the challenges of the new era and how The Daily Show has changed under Noah’s comic vision.
“Trump is gone,” Klepper says, “but Trumpism is still here.” Klepper should know, since he’s the show’s celebrated “reporter” who regularly mixes it up with Trump supporters and draws out their unintentionally absurd responses. “My anxiety is up and going even higher because the new news is that Trump is gone but you still have a party beholden to him.” Sloan sympathizes, but for different reasons: “I’m still a Black woman, so my anxiety level is the same,” after Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
The correspondents confirm that they followed Noah’s lead when they had to navigate the choppy socio-political waters of 2020. “We had to reconstruct the show,” Wood Jr. observes. “You can’t laugh at the tragedy but you can find comedy in the circumstances that led to the tragedy and in those who are blocking a solution. The best example of this was last summer, after the killing of Ahmaud Aubrey due to a terrible citizens arrest law in Georgia. We were able to sit in that story and find jokes from the ridiculous nature of the law itself.”
Wood Jr. adds that “as the country became angrier, we had to let outrage and pain breathe within a piece.” The team comments that Noah set this tone from a conviction that The Daily Show had to be honest with its viewers. Lydic praises Noah for deciding at times “that he’s not gonna make (a certain topic) funny and speak from an honest place.” It can feel cathartic, and Chieng agrees: “Trevor speaks from the heart.”
This honesty reflects the evolution of The Daily Show, according to Kosta. “The change (in the show) is also because of Trevor, since he’s not playing a TV host, he’s being Trevor as himself. I think we’re all shrinking that distance between ourselves and our characters’ points of view.”
Klepper views the change with the longest perspective, since he harkens back to the time when Jon Stewart hosted the show: “The style then was more in the arch, satirical mode. Trevor’s taste is toward authenticity but it’s also the time we’re in. Audiences are savvier now. They get the comedy but they also want to know who’s behind the character.”
This edition of THR Presents was sponsored by Comedy Central.
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